Friday, March 6, 2009

The Exalted Prophet, Priest and King of Revelation 1 (Part 1)

The answer to Question 23 of the Shorter Catechism teaches that, "Christ as our redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation." In Revelation 1, we find a glorious and majestice presentation of Christ executing his three-fold office as the divine, eschatological prophet, priest and king.

The Book of Revelation opens with a self-disclosed revelation from God to his church--and its principal author is the resurrected and reigning Jesus Christ. Jesus, as the author, declares to the church the will of God for their salvation from the heavenly perspective, in order to aid and guide the church into faithful perseverance as pilgrims living away from their heavenly home. Using language that hearkens back to Daniel 2 (see previous post), Jesus sets forth in Revelation the unfolding of human history that will be brought to its eschatological completion according to Christ's good pleasure. Until that time, there is a battle of cosmic proportions, raging behind the scenes of history that is bringing itself to bear on history. As such, as the victorious and conquering Christ puts his enemies down, his enemies will manifest their hatred of him and his rule by pouring out their own wrath upon the church.

For the church to bear up and persevere through this battle, Christ reveals to them what they need to know. But the real thrust of his prophetic ministry here is not in foretelling historical events to the church, as much as, it has to do with his forthtelling how the church is to live and respond to the coming affliction. And so there is a blessing attached to the reading and hearing of his words--specifically when the reading and hearing are attended by obedience to what he says. So on the Christian Sabbath, Christ calls the apostle John up into the heavenly places and delivers an audible message to the apostle that he in turn is to write down and deliver to us!

But Christ is not just any prophet and this is not his first time to reveal, or witness to, the will of God; according to verse 5, Jesus is the faithful witness. In his earthly ministry Jesus was the eschatological Word who came and dwelt with his people in order to testify of grace and truth and to make the Father known (John 1.1-18). The prophetic ministry of Jesus was basically twofold: 1) he disclosed the blessing of salvation that God was procuring for his church; and 2) he discloses the coming covenant curses for failure to repent and believe.

As Christ fulfilled this calling he came under much opposition and tribulation at the hands of evil and wicked men. But Christ did not back down and give in to the pressure to stop testifying--and that faithful testimony was then sealed with his death on the cross. Jesus' testimony in a nut shell was that he was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14.6), and that everyone who believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3.16); yet, his testimony led to the cross and the grave.

Revelation 1.5 goes on to say, however, that Christ did not remain in the grave, because in addition to being the faithful witness, he is also the firstborn of the dead! His faithfulness led him to more than just the cross and death--it led him to resurrection! He is the firstborn of the dead. "Firstborn" tells us that he is not the only--but the first--to be born from the dead. There are others that he will resurrect from the dead as well. His testimony is not negated by his death, but rather confirmed. It is only by way of death that one enters the glory of the resurrection. This is what it means for him to be the faithful witness who died and rose again--that in his testimony one truly finds life; not a better earthly existence--but true, resurrection, glorious, heavenly life! The one who speaks to us gives us words of life.

However, as a prophet, Jesus is also a guardian of the covenant who brings God's covenant lawsuit and speaks of the coming covenant curses. For example, in Matthew 21.44, Jesus alludes to the prophecy in Daniel 2 to tell the pharisees that because they oppose him, they are in opposition to the Kingdom of God itself. And as the prophecy in Daniel 2 foretells of the Kingdom of God as pictured by a great stone that crushes all competing kingdoms of man, so they too will share in the defeat of the Gentiles and be crushed by that same stone. In the context of the passage, it is clear that Jesus is that stone. The result of the pharisees' opposition to Christ is that they will not inherit the blessings of the kingdom, but instead will receive the curse of the covenant and be cut off from its inheritance. So the one who brings words of life because he himself received the curse of the covenant on the cross and was raised back to life, also brings words of judgment that call for repentance and faith. In Revelation 1.7, his prophetic words include not only the possibility of judgment, but the certainty of the coming judgment that had been foretold from Genesis 3. In his heavenly prophetic ministry, Christ is the mediator of God's words to his church and to all mankind of both the blessing of life and the curse of death.

The hope of the church and world, then, rests in the life and words of this divine, eschatological prophet. If you struggle to believe that there is a coming eschatological judgment of God, then look at the cross, for that judgment has already begun. And if you struggle to believe the promise of eternal life, then look at and listen to the resurrected and glorified Christ, for in him that life has already begun. The only means for the church to endure and persevere faithfully through the trials of faith is found in the one who embodies the realities of both the curse and the blessing--we must give heed to his words.

(There will be more on this theme of Christ's heavenly prophetic ministry in Revelation 2 in an upcoming post)

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